BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Freshmen Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (pictured), Kentucky’s two leading scorers and most consistent performers, were honored by the Southeastern Conference’s league coaches on Tuesday, March 6. Knox was named, alongside Alabama’s Collin Sexton, as the SEC Freshman of the Year, and a first-team selection, while Gilgeous-Alexander was a second-team pick by the 14 head coaches. The duo was among eight players on the All-SEC Freshman Team.
All 14 conference head coaches voted on the eight-man first- and second-team All-SEC squads. Ties were not broken.
Knox was joined on the first team by Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Yante Maten (Georgia), Kassius Robertson (Missouri), Chris Silva (South Carolina), Grant Williams (Tennessee) and Tyler Davis (Texas A&M).
Gilgeous-Alexander was a second-team member alongside Sexton, Daryl Macon (Arkansas), Bryce Brown (Auburn), Jared Harper (Auburn), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State), Admiral Schofield (Tennessee) and Jeff Roberson (Vanderbilt).
Knox is the ninth Wildcat to win SEC Freshman of the Year as voted on by the league’s coaches in Kentucky’s storied history. He is the eighth player in the last nine seasons under John Calipari’s direction to claim the distinction. With the freshman duo capturing league honors, Calipari has now coached 23 players who have earned All-SEC accolades. At least one player has been named to the All-SEC Freshman Team, including 24 total, in all nine seasons under Calipari, and in eight of the nine seasons multiple players have been tabbed to the squad.
In addition to UK’s two freshmen, Sexton, Daniel Gafford (Arkansas), Tremont Waters (LSU), Nick Weatherspoon (Mississippi State), Jontay Porter (Missouri) and TJ Stars (Texas A&M) made up the All-SEC Freshman Team.
Knox re-asserted himself into the national discussion as one of the nation’s best freshmen after a 34-point performance at then-No. 7/7 West Virginia.
The U.S. Basketball Writers of America named him both the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week and the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week and the Atlanta Tipoff Club tabbed him its Citizen Naismith National Player of the Week honors on Jan. 31. Knox was the second freshman this season to earn both USBWA honors in the same week, joining Oklahoma’s Trae Young, who did it in December. It was also his first SEC honor.
Overall, Knox leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.7 points per game. He’s reached double-figure scoring in 25 games this season and has a team-high nine games of 20 or more points, while also leading the team in rebounding on six occasions. He is second on the team with 165 rebounds on the year for an average of 5.3 per game. Knox has also put together a team-high-tying two double-doubles on the year and has drained a team-high 50 3-pointers.
He’s averaging 17.8 points per game over the last 12 games, scoring in double figures in all but one of those games. He also notched 20 or more points in three straight games during UK’s four-game winning streak to end the month of February. He is the first player to score 20 or more in three straight since Malik Monk did it four times in November and December of 2016.
The Tampa, Florida, native is shooting 44.6 percent from the field, 35.0 percent from 3-point range and 77.2 percent from the charity stripe. In games in which UK has won this season, he is averaging 16.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 13.2 points per game. He leads the team in steals (49), assists (151), free-throw percentage (.808) and minutes per game (32.9).
Over the last 16 games as a starter, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 14.8 points, 5.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds in 36.2 minutes of action. Whether he’s serving as the man running the show or the energy guy off the bench that he was for most of the nonconference season, he’s changing the game in a multitude of ways.
First, there’s the defense. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 1.6 steals per game. Under Calipari, John Wall’s 1.8 steals and 66 for the season are the most of any player. Gilgeous-Alexander currently is third among all SEC players with 49 steals (through games on March 3). He’s moved into seventh place on UK’s single-season freshman steals list and needs two to pass Nerlens Noel and move into sixth.
But what has really taken Gilgeous-Alexander’s game to another level in the last two months is his poise and consistency on the offensive end. He is averaging 15.1 points over his last 20 games, but more importantly, his play rises when the team needs him the most. He’s averaging 9.2 points in the second halves of games (compared to 5.8 in the first) over the last 20 games.
The 6-foot-6 guard is far from a score-first point guard. He’s proven to be an adept passer, leading the team in assists with a 4.9 average, ranked fourth in the SEC. He’s led the team in assists in a team-best 22 games. He is the 13th freshman in program history to amass more than 100 assists during his freshman season. He currently sits in sixth on the all-time freshman assists list with 151. He needs nine to pass Brandon Knight and Andrew Harrison who are tied for fourth. Wall owns the record with 241 assists in 2009-10.
Kentucky returns to action in the opening round of the SEC Tournament on Friday. UK will take on the winner of Thursday’s winner between Missouri or Wednesday’s Georgia-Vanderbilt game on Friday at approximately 3:25 p.m. ET. The game is set to air live on the ESPN.
Photo by Wayne Mason